I am old enough to have spent my adolescence doing just that: always wanting something that was, hard to find at best, but more often not available or no longer in print – and forever scouring bookshops and bookstalls… Not libraries – not really, because a treasure hunt in which I didn’t get to keep the treasure held little appeal. You know, like Francie Nolan, who borrows If I Were King every blessed Saturday, and every time hates to give it back? Well, I understood the impulse that made her start to copy the story in a notebook – and because I also understood why she soon gave up, I kept hunting in bookshops – first and second-hand – and bookstalls, and flea markets….
At times I found, at times I did not. At times it was sheer doggedness, like the memories of the Red Baron. At times it was serendipity, like Edoardo Calandra’s La Bufera, found when I had all but given up. At times it just couldn’t be done – and that was that.
And then the Internet happened – and remember, this is Italy, so it took a little longer to happen here, and I took a little longer yet to become alive to its wonders – but when the Net and I really met and made friends… ah! Imagine Aladdin in the cave. Alice in Wonderland. Not just Amazon, but eBay, and the Project Gutenberg, and the Internet Archive, and Google Books, and everything else… Suddenly no book, no article, no play, no movie was impossible to find – or very nearly so.
Which at first seemed to mark the end of my book-hunting quests – but of course it did not. It just changed the game, making it a whole lot huger. So many more books to seek… And, of course, there still are the elusive titles, the ones that are really hard to find, so the hunt is still up – in full force.
I still love second-hand bookshops, and bookstalls, and flea markets – but when you live in the middle of nowhere, when you read mostly in English, and the the best you can expect to find in town is a half dozen Penguin Classics, when it’s harder and harder to find a bookshop that doesn’t function like a chemist… thank heaven for the Web.